The Theme of Justice

The draft of the Core Revision currently before the Colgate faculty proposes a single course called “Questions of Justice” to take the place of Core 151 Legacies of the Ancient World and Core 152 Challenges of Modernity.  Some key language from the proposal is as follows:

“The teaching staff and Questions of Justice UP will select five common texts. These texts must exhibit both chronological and geographic or cultural diversity. At least two must date to before the year 1000 CE and at least two must come from places and cultures that have not been included in the traditional post-war “Western” canon. A minimum of four of these five common texts will be taught in each section of the course. Individual instructors in Core Questions of Justice can fill the remainder of their syllabus with whatever materials they feel best complement the common texts. The five common texts will be selected for their origins in diverse times and cultures, their variety of form, and the profundity of the issues with which they contend. A typical slate of common texts for Core Questions of Justice might include options that originate in ancient China, classical Greece, medieval Cairo, Enlightenment Prussia, and mid-20th century Mexico. The course would be organized around a set of five texts, at least four of which must be taught in all sections.

“This course will explore the concept of justice as it has been developed in a diverse range of ancient and modern texts. As an inherently contested idea, and a key consideration in ordering human societies, justice is a common thread in many cultural traditions from across time and around the globe. Through a set of texts, some common to all sections and others chosen by individual instructors, Core Questions of Justice asks students to grapple with conceptions and practices of justice that are likely to be unfamiliar and challenging to them. The deliberate inclusion of readings from multiple times and places helps students recognize their own social and cultural positionality, a key feature of Colgate’s DEI vision as well as a central mission of the Core Curriculum. The chronological sweep of the course honors the Core’s long tradition of including texts from both the ancient and modern worlds.

“Because of its multivalence, and because so many different cultures have overlapping yet non-identical conceptions of justice, this theme offers a powerful means by which to achieve the primary pedagogical goal of this course: to think critically and analytically about important texts from a variety of historical periods and cultural traditions. Complex texts that take up justice as a central question – from the Bhagavad Gita to Picasso’s Guernica to Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” – open up a wide range of ways to practice close reading, careful writing, and rigorous discussion. The multiple interpretations of justice embodied in such texts require critical thinking and intellectual humility to navigate. This diversity also invites students and faculty members to be attentive to the contexts within which such texts are produced and propagated.

“As a topic, justice is simultaneously concrete and abstract. It encompasses knowledge systems, ethics, legal institutions, human rights, environmental justice, religious justice, racial justice, and just war theory. How do we determine right from wrong? How have societies, ancient and modern, wrestled with moral conflicts and trade-offs? How can we best hear and honor demands for justice from oppressed and marginalized communities? How do we act upon the experiences of survivors of trauma and violence, especially when they lack the resources to advocate for themselves? How have communities in different times and places adjudicated between competing social goods, between individual empowerment and communal loyalties, and between human and nonhuman interests? Under a range of names, such as dike, dharma, roco wat, adil, stewardship, order, duty, and equity, cultures around the world have debated these questions. This course creates a space to think about differences as well as overlaps between these various formulations. The concept of justice also offers a robust framework through which to consider historical processes such as empire, revolution, nationalism, and decolonization.”

Posts in this category will consider whether or not the theme of justice is one that inspires them, works as an organizing principle, does ‘justice’ to the complexity of the texts, and/or offers a compelling rationale for why all Colgate students should be required to take this class.